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Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

A review by David Gibson

Blood Song is a pureblood epic fantasy that provided exactly the fantasy kick I was looking for when I dived in.

The book opens with an account in first person perspective from a time near the end of the book, which excellently establishes a sense of mystery around our protagonist, Vaelin Al Sorna.  The rest of the book is then spent unpacking that mystery, delving into the myriad events and people who shaped Vaelin’s life.

There is so much to praise about this book. The characters are complex, constructed from interpersonal relationships and emotions so they resonate extremely well. Plot and worldbuilding also maintain this high standard, gradually growing and deepening as the narrative progresses. Watching the world of Blood Song unfold was an immensely satisfying and immersive experience for me.

This may come off as raving but part of me rebels against the giving away of plot or character developments that would be necessary in order to really break down a scene. However, it would be lazy just to heap praise on something, so I will do like the frustrated writing student and analyse the opening.

I’m skipping the perspective account because the narration of chapter one is the voice used for the majority of the novel. Now onwards.

The mist sat thick on the ground the morning Vaelin’s father took him to the House of the Sixth Order. He rode in front, his hands grasping the saddles pommel, enjoying the treat. His father rarely took him riding.

There is a lot packed into this first paragraph; the misty morning, a cold somewhat forlorn image; the young Vaelin’s joy, contrasted with the obvious distance between him and his father. Immediately we evoke the well-trodden path of father-son conflict, something that if the book had delivered poorly on, I would be savaging without remorse.

As the scene continues we learn that Vaelin’s mother recently died, and his father, who is the Battle Lord (High Commander) of the realm, is undergoing a black period. Vaelin’s father speaks only once during this entire scene, after the two arrive at the House of the Sixth Order.

“Vaelin,” he said in his course, warrior’s voice. “Do you remember the motto I taught you? Our family creed.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Tell me.”

“ ‘Loyalty is our strength’.”

“Yes. Loyalty is our strength. Remember it. Remember you are my son and that I want you to stay here. In this place you will learn many things, you will become a brother of the Sixth Order. But you will always be my son, and you will honour my wishes.”

These are, to get into mild spoilers, the only words we ever hear the battle lord say to his son and they echo though much of the narrative, giving us insight into Vaelin’s internal struggle.

This level of writing persists thought the entire novel. It is a bit of an injustice to reduce it to such cold, broad analytical strokes, as it removes most of the author’s flair and voice.

I said above that this story was a pureblood epic fantasy and in keeping with that the story follows recognisable patterns and archetypes. But it is the particular skill with which Anthony Ryan draws upon those patterns and archetypes that makes Blood Song so compelling.

Now to contradict myself: Blood Song is also excellent at keeping the reader guessing.  Mystery and intrigue are heavily present in the book. The story draws upon a broad enough spectrum of the fantasy genre that it managed to include a number of genuine twists I simply didn’t see coming.

There are a few nit-picks I feel compelled to make.

Firstly, while the cover is one of very few photographic-image covers I actually like, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the worldmap, which, while largely unimportant to the story itself, is usually one of my favourite things about a fantasy novel.

Secondly, this book is very much the beginning of a trilogy. While trying to avoid spoilers, the ending felt somewhat unsatisfying as it left a lot open for the next book. This is fine, perhaps even a good idea on the author’s part as it leaves me ravenous for more. Still, it was frustrating as the story question for the series as a whole is revealed quite late in the book (although it is foreshadowed earlier).

So to finish up, Blood Song is an excellent fantasy book that you should defiantly put on your reading list. However, if you are incredibly bad at waiting, you may want to hold out for when Tower Lord is released. Which, fortunately for me, looks like it’s going to be early next year (Official dates aren’t out yet).

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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